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Say cheese in the Philippines, Part 1

Say cheese, photo 1OK, everyone! Say, “cheese”! No, I’m not trying to get you to smile for the camera, I’m trying to get you in the mood for today’s topic: Cheese.

Where’s the cheese?

People don’t associate tropical Asia with cheese making very much and with good reason: cheese making is a cold country thing. Cheeses are aged in controlled commercial climates these days but back in the old days, cheese makers often aged their products in caves where the temperature naturally hovered around 50°F and 75% humidity. Here in the Philippines, we have the humidity for ripening but we don’t have the naturally low temperatures. Cheese aging wasn’t really possible here so the Philippines is almost void of natural, local cheese.

We also don’t have a ready supply of one of the main ingredients in cheese: milk! In Europe where cheese making developed into a fine art, herds of dairy cows are everywhere. In supermarkets in the West, there are several types of milk in several sizes chilling in every “dairy” section. Here there are carabao  and goats and people consume the milk of each but most milk is reconstituted from milk powder or purchased in those “brick” containers. High dairy production is just not part of the culture.

Quest for the curd

Cheese is a weak spot for me. I say cheese a lot more often than maybe I should. I love chomping on a good cheese with my beer or wine. But new experiences aren’t always about gaining things, they’re often about learning to let go or sacrifice the old things we love. I was prepared to give up my love of fresh cheese when I moved here to the Philippines.

say cheese, photo 2I held out some hope that I could find decent cheese in the refrigerated sections of local supermarkets. It might cost an arm and a leg for being shipped in cold containers from far away, but there has to be some Irish cheddar here at Savemore, right? SM Supermarket? GMarket? No?

No. There’s just not much demand for cheese in a country that doesn’t produce a lot of cheese. Makes sense, doesn’t it? In fact, the best-selling “cheese” in the Philipppines is Kraft’s (now Mondelez Philippines, Inc.) Eden “cheese”. Like it’s American “cheese product” cousin, Velveeta, Eden isn’t really cheese. As it says on the label it’s a “processed filled cheese spread” which, I think, is another term for Velveeta’s famous “pasteurized, processed cheese food”.

Yeah? So? Where’s the darn cheese?

OK, now that we know what there isn’t here in the Philippines, can we get to what there IS? Of course we can!

Remember what I said up there, when I said that the “Philippines is almost void of natural, local cheese”? The key word is “almost”. In fact, the Philippines has one incredible, famous and delicious young cheese made from carabao milk that is called Kesong Puti. I compare it most to a fresh mozzarella because it’s very light, white and sold with some of its “water” to keep it moist. It’s just a little bit more crumbly than good old mozz but it is just as soft, creamy and light-flavored.

Filipinos traditionally eat Kesong Puti on fresh, hot pandesal bread for breakfast. I have had it that way and I can attest to the fact that it is a very tasty way to start your day.

Are there more ways to say cheese in the Philippines? To be truthful, I only know of one more way to say cheese here and that’s to say, “Malagos”. If you read (and you should have) my post on local chocolate, you already know the name Malagos. Malagos Farmhouse is also now the Dabawenyo’s spot for artisan cheese. Here is a short article on the origins of Davao cheese and Malagos Farm’s involvement.

It looks like I’m running out of room for today’s blog post, so why don’t we save the rest of the Say Cheese entry for a Part 2? Let’s do that. Go. Follow the links in this article, learn some fascinating facts and come back for the next part later this week.

(Disclaimer: I have no business or personal connection to Malagos Farm or Malagos Garden Resort and received no compensation for this article.)

cheese cubes photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc Eden brand cheese photo credit: xxjoyceeyxx via photopin cc


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